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Addict Behavior | 31 Signs You’re Dealing With an Addict or Alcoholic

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Addict behavior is wide-ranging and can be different for every addict, especially for different types of addictions.

Here are a few addict behaviors that can be clear signs of addiction as you regularly see many of them at once:

  1. Using drugs or alcohol to solve problems
  2. Using drugs or alcohol regularly and excessively (like smoking weed all day long)
  3. Physical signs of depressant use (when using alcohol, Xanax, OxyContin, or other depressants)
    1. Slurring speech
    2. Having tiny pupils or dilated pupils
    3. Being irritable or snapping
    4. Being drowsy or unable to stay awake
    5. Nodding their heads, only to snap them up every now and then — seeming to be about to fall asleep all the time
    6. Throwing up constantly
  4. Physical signs of stimulant abuse (when using Adderall, cocaine, or meth)
    1. Staying up all night and into the next day
    2. Having dilated pupils
    3. Talking really fast
    4. Staying awake for days and days
    5. Sleeping for 18 hours or more (usually after a binge)
    6. Picking at their skin or getting sores on their body, especially their face
    7. Grinding their teeth
    8. Lots of scarring from picking
    9. Rotting teeth
  5. Smelling like alcohol or drugs (like weed) all the time
    1. Clothes smelling like alcohol or drugs
  6. Having bad personal hygiene
  7. Lying
  8. Manipulation
  9. Blaming others
  10. Cheating
  11. Breaking the law
  12. Stealing
  13. Struggling to take care of responsibilities, like school or work
    1. Losing jobs
    2. Dropping classes (or getting bad grades)

Addict Behavior #1 | Using Drugs or Alcohol to Solve Problems

Above all else, the way to tell if someone is an addict is if they see alcohol and/or drugs as a solution to their problems.

This can take a variety of forms. For example, let’s say that someone gets angry easily.

If they use alcohol or drugs to deal with that anger — if you see them use or drink soon after getting angry or they increase their intake after getting angry (either quantity or speed or both), this is a sign that you’re dealing with an addict.

It’s important to note also that the use of alcohol or drugs to deal with problems also overlaps with using or drinking to excess. If they’re using or drinking excessively in an attempt to solve some problem of theirs, it’s another powerful sign that you’re dealing with an addict.

For example, let’s consider someone who suffers from pain or insomnia. It’s one thing to take a pain pill when you’re in chronic pain, especially if it’s recommended by a doctor, but it’s another to take more than you need.

If someone is taking pain pills so much for their pain that they’re acting woozy or slurring their speech, then you’re probably dealing with an addict.

If they’re struggling with insomnia and drink to go to sleep, this is a big sign of addiction, or maybe they take their sleeping meds really early and start to act strange — stumbling around, slurring speech — before going to bed.

Using Alcohol or Drugs Excessively and Regularly

This addict behavior is sometimes visible (especially with drinking) and sometimes not, and it can be somewhat subjective, but the reality is that it’s usually pretty obvious when someone is going overboard.

A good example of excess is if someone is drinking to blackout regularly. Drinking so much that it affects your memory is definitely addict behavior.

Another good example is if the person gets sloppy drunk regularly and starts acting crazy, like yelling or getting into fights or telling everyone how much they love them.

However, what if someone appears functional when they’re using or drinking? This isn’t uncommon at all.

That’s where you have to look at the amount they’re using. It might be the case that they’re never sloppy and never slur their speech, but they’re taking 20 hydrocodone a day. That excessive amount is a sign of addiction even if the person can control themself.

In fact, I would argue that the ability to function normally despite using or drinking a large amount is a big sign of addiction.

It means that someone uses or drinks so regularly that they’ve developed a major tolerance — a big sign of addiction.

Physical Signs of Depressant and Stimulant Addiction

While there are many addict behaviors, there are also signs of addiction that blur the line between a behavior and a sign.

For example, it’s very common for addicts of depressants to have either dilated pupils (like with alcohol for example) or constricted/tiny pupils (like with opioids like heroin or OxyContin).

Another common sign of addiction, especially with certain drugs like OxyContin or meth, is irritability, usually accompanied by someone snapping at you or becoming really angry really quickly.

This can be considered a behavior because someone acts angry or irritable.

For people who abuse depressants especially, throwing up a lot is a huge sign of addiction.

You’ll not only see this with alcohol abuse, but you’ll also see it with opiate abuse.

There are other addictions too where throwing up is an addict behavior, like with bulimics.

Addicts of opiates and opioids are especially prone to nodding out, which literally means that the person begins to nod their head over and over, seeming to almost fall asleep before jerking awake. 

This drowsiness or inability to stay awake can be a sign of opiate abuse, but it can also be a sign of stimulant abuse.

Stimulant users will stay awake for days on end, sometimes even for weeks at a time. They often stink and become oily because they don’t take care of their bodies and their bodies don’t get time to recover.

One addict behavior of meth and Adderall users is to pick at their skin, especially the face. They’ll have open sores on their face, hands, or other areas of their body. They often get diseases like MRSA or cellulitis as a result, and they often have a lot of scarring.

Having lots of scars is another addict behavior that not only affects drug addicts but also famously affects cutters, also known as people who self harm (people who cut their bodies to take away mental pain).

Simulant addicts also tend to grind their teeth and get what’s called “meth mouth,” which is where they will get rotten teeth, teeth that are cracked or falling out, and general bad breath.

The reason for this is that these drugs will dry out your mouth and lead to gum and tooth disease, especially when the users don’t brush or floss for weeks or months on end.

Smelling Like Alcohol or Drugs All the Time

This may seem obvious, but it’s important to note that alcoholics and drug addicts will regularly reek of their drug of choice.

While this is especially pronounced in alcoholics and those who smoke weed, you can find the signs on other types of addicts as well.

Unfortunately, some drugs — especially prescription drugs — have no scent, but drugs like meth and crack have a scent when smoked that can linger on a user’s body, breath, and clothes.

This absolutely falls under the umbrella of addict behavior because someone who is just experimenting with drugs or alcohol is going to take the time to clean their clothes or change them to cover up the scent.

As people fall deeper into addiction, they worry less and less about how they smell or appear, even in public.

Obvious Addict Behavior — Having Bad Personal Hygiene

No matter what drug the addict or alcoholic is abusing, it almost always leads eventually to bad personal hygiene when it gets out of hand.

This might be small, like no longer doing your hair or no longer using deodorant, or even just using it less regularly.

For stimulant addicts especially, it results in meth mouth — rotting teeth and foul breath.

Other addicts simply stop taking showers or brushing their teeth because they’ve gotten so hooked, to the point they just don’t care what they look or smell like anymore.

In extreme cases, this can lead to people not taking care of wounds, especially if they’re injecting drugs, in which case they end up with abscesses that can become infected.

One major sign of drug addiction is when someone is wearing long sleeves to hide the fact that they’re injecting drugs in their arms — this is where the abscesses will appear.

Lying

Perhaps one of the most common addict behaviors is lying. Why the addict lies about what they’re doing is often only known to the addict themselves.

For example, many addicts lie about drinking or getting high because they can get in trouble for it — with the law, with their parents, with their friends. They may feel that the best way to protect the people in their lives is to lie about what they’re really doing.

Sometimes, this is actually true. It’s not exactly a great idea for a father to tell their kids that they’re addicted to crack.

But in most cases, the lies are not about what they’re doing so much as other behaviors related to the use.

For example, addicts will lie about how much money they’re spending on alcohol and drugs, especially to their spouse. Some addicts, like meth addicts, often become sex addicts too, and thus will lie about where they are or who they’re with.

This also depends a lot on age. An older alcoholic who is fully self supporting might not have to lie about their drinking to anyone, especially if they’ve run off everyone in their life who cares about them.

However, young people especially have to lie about experimenting with drugs and alcohol because of potential legal consequences, consequences at school, and consequences imposed by their parents.

They learn to lie early and often, and if they become full-blown addicts, this behavior only continues as it has become a survival mechanism.

Manipulation and Blaming Others

Addicts are well known for manipulating people to get what they want. This might include guilt tripping a parent for accusing them of using drugs, even though they’re actually using drugs.

It might include gaslighting someone they’re in a relationship with thinking that they’re crazy to believe the gaslighter is using drugs or sleeping around.

It might include manipulating someone into loaning them money with lies about what the money is for, or even convincing them to loan them money for alcohol or drugs.

Manipulation can come in other forms and can become seriously abusive, like convincing a significant other to do something sexually that they don’t want to do or to let them cheat on you.

Another form of manipulation that’s a little more specific is blaming other people for their problems.

Sometimes the addict will directly blame you for something that they’ve done, even to the point where they convince you that you are, in fact, to blame.

But in most cases, they just refuse to take responsibility for their actions. They blame all their problems on other people, or on society, or on bad luck or religion or a god of some sort, and they refuse to look at how they’ve ruined their own lives through drinking and drugging.

Cheating

I mean this type of addict behavior in all the ways you can think of it.

For young people, this means cheating in school. You might consider this a form of lying too, and manipulation can be involved — the addict will manipulate friends who are studying and working hard to let them cheat off them.

For people of all ages, this can mean cheating in relationships. As addicts progress, their morals and values tend to be ignored more and more. It’s not at all uncommon for the addict or alcoholic to cheat on their significant other.

They might cheat in other ways too. Perhaps they’re cutting corners at work, or cheating a drug test by using someone else’s urine.

It’s just another form of dishonesty, which is one of the most common of addict behaviors.

Serious Addict Behaviors — Breaking the Law and Stealing

Depending on where you live, just possessing drugs can be against the law. Because many societies criminalize possession, when someone becomes a drug addict, they’ve already been pushed into criminality, opening the door to further acts of crime.

One of the most common things that happens with drug addicts is that they start selling drugs to support their addiction. As the addiction grows worse, they sell more and more drugs, and eventually, they almost always get caught.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Many addicts and alcoholics will get into physical fights that end with them in jail, or they might become abusive towards significant others. They might start drinking and driving or driving while high, which is definitely illegal.

Another illegal behavior that should be singled out is stealing. This might start as early as high school, where the addict begins stealing to pay for their addiction, often because they can’t hold down a job.

This can progress to shoplifting, or even outright robbery or burglary in severe cases. Someone engaging in these behaviors is often doing so to support an addiction, and thus we can consider it addict behavior.

These behaviors are serious because they can lead to severe consequences that can change people’s lives forever. I know too many addicts/alcoholics who have gone to prison for long periods of time because of selling drugs or hurting/killing people in car accidents.

Struggling to Handle Responsibilities

The final addict behavior on the list is the inability to handle their responsibilities.

It’s very common for addicts and alcoholics to lose jobs or to fail to get promotions. This is often as a result of some of the other addict behaviors on this list.

For example, someone who cheats on a drug test and gets caught is almost certainly going to lose their job. Someone who lies to their boss and isn’t doing what they’re supposed to do at work is going to eventually lose their job.

Younger addicts and alcoholics may lose their jobs or quit their jobs, but they’re more likely to start getting bad grades, or at least worse grades, and if they’re in college, they may drop classes. They may start to fail classes and drop out of school entirely.

Other responsibilities can be even more serious. Addicts and alcoholics often fail in their responsibilities as parents, even to the point that their children are taken away from them.

It might also be the case that they’re failing to take care of their animals, or their house falls into disrepair, or their apartment becomes a disaster and a mess.

They might fail at their responsibilities as a friend, ignoring their friends or driving them away. Maybe they’re no longer able to fulfill their responsibilities as a significant other, no longer having sex or spending time with their significant other.

They might fail at their responsibilities as a child, letting their aging parents fend for themselves.

It all depends on what responsibilities the addict or alcoholic is supposed to be taking care of — and what they’re no longer taking care of.

Learn More About Addiction and Addict Behaviors

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Adam Fout

Adam Fout is an addiction/recovery blogger who writes nonfiction and speculative fiction. He is a graduate of the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop and has been published in or has upcoming work in december, Another Chicago Magazine, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, J Journal, Pulp Literature, and DreamForge. And he LOVES when readers reach out to him! Always feel free to send me an email at awfout at gmail dot com. I can't wait to hear from you!